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The New Google Privacy Policy

Published on March 2, 2012
Tags: Web Site Law, Internet Communication

It has been another busy week in the world of online privacy and Google is back in the spotlight with the launch of its new privacy policy. A significant update from Google is always something to interest web designers, and this example is no different.

This particular privacy update is supposed to, according to Google, get rid of inconsistencies in its previous privacy policies so that ‘we can make more of your information available to you when using Google.’ This means that Google is now better able to share users’ data between different services. For example, if you use all of your Google services while you are logged in, your search history could have an impact on the YouTube videos that are suggested to you.

The Google blog post announcing the new privacy policy gives the example of Jamie Oliver (bear with us). They say that, for instance, if you do regular searches for Jamie Oliver and you then search for recipes on YouTube, Google might take note of this and suggest his videos for you, or put up ads for his cookery books while you are using other Google services.

The impact of this is two-fold. One impact is that it can help to make services more convenient for users as their preferences will be registered across Google platforms. The other impact is that the changes are likely to make it easier for Google to target ads to web users.

Another impact of the new privacy policy, however, is that it seems as though Google may have fallen foul of EU laws and the EU is currently taking action to examine the policy. When the privacy update was first launched about a month ago, the data protection authorities in Europe expressed concern and suggested that Google ought to wait to implement the policy until an impact assessment had been carried out. However, as we can clearly see, Google have launched the changes anyway.

The concern of the European Union is that the Google privacy policy does not meet requirements with regards to ‘information provided to data subjects.’ The French data protection authority, CNIL, has been asked to examine the policy as a result. One of the main issues that have been raised is to do with the way the privacy policy has been worded; CNIL is worried that it is too general in the way it talks about Google services and the personal data involved. They are worried that this means normal web users will find it difficult to determine the details of the policy in relation to particular Google services.

Google has already tried to defend itself against the EU’s concerns, saying that they have already carried out an extensive awareness campaign to try and educate service users about the changes that are being implemented. They also argue that if you do not want your data to be shared across the different Google platforms, you don’t need to be logged into all of the services in order to use them. 

For example, you can use platforms such as YouTube, search and Google Maps without being logged in. There is also an option to go ‘incognito’ if you choose to browse the web using Google Chrome. Google also makes the point that you don’t necessarily have to operate all of your services from one single account – you can have different accounts for different services if you wish.

However, a counter-argument could run that this all serves to make privacy more complicated than it was before despite the fact it is supposed to simplify things; the new privacy policy automatically applies to everyone who uses Google’s services while logged in and there is no option to properly opt out of it. The only way to avoid the policy is to stop using Google’s services altogether. 

There are, though, some other things that concerned users can do to limit the amount of data that is linked across services. For example, they have the option to delete search histories and can view their Google Dashboard to see what data is held on them and where.

Despite this, there are still concerns. Even though Google carried out an awareness campaign, a poll carried out by YouGov found that 47% of UK Google users were still unaware of the changes. The EU action continues and there is worry from some campaign groups.

One thing we find ourselves wondering, though, is that even if people are concerned or don’t understand the privacy policy, is it going to stop people using Google services? We suspect probably not.

By Chelsey Evans

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